I get messages all the time—whether they’re from feminists, environmentalists, Christians, or Linux users—about how to spend my money and what businesses to support. This has been going on for years. Even in high school, my friend Shannon used to chastise me for using Papermate pens because Papermate did animal testing. My pastor told me that he supports Barnes and Noble online because Amazon gives a lot of its money to conservative political organizations. Linux users say to buy from vendors who provide Linux-compatible hardware (open drivers or ported drivers).
I do believe in voting with your wallet. I do believe that my general support of local businesses makes a difference in my neighborhood. I do think it matters whether I eat at a mom-and-pop restaurant instead of a large chain. I do think it matters whether I buy a comic book from the local comic book store instead of off Amazon. I do think the money you spend on computers sends a message to hardware vendors.
Of course, it’s only true to a certain extent. The economy is the economy. It’s interlinked. Organizations are interdependent. You can’t just take yourself out of the “bad” economy and make sure you’re in only the “good” economy. Every school or non-profit you believe in receives donations from very rich people who got very rich doing things you may not believe in. Even those rich people who are nice enough to donate may not themselves believe in what their company does. But their company pays the bills.
The interesting thing is that corporations (as I learned from the excellent documentary The Corporation) are not evil or good. They may appear to some people to do a lot of evil things, but they basically are, as the documentary puts it, “amoral and dangerous.” They exist to work for the good of their shareholders. That’s their main point of existence. If they’re not meeting that goal, even founders of corporations can be fired. These corporations may at the same time be polluting the water, kicking the poor out of their neighborhoods, building commercial buildings in place of public parks, laying off employees by the thousands… while also sponsoring fundraisers for charities, and donating large sums of money to non-profits and environmental organizations.
It would be convenient to think we live in an easy world of economic good and bad—that you can say “My money goes to only good companies and good causes” and know what you’re saying is true. The truth is you do what you can. You can make little bits of difference. You cannot ignore our interdependence, though. We’re all in this together and we all, in little ways, either support “the man” or benefit from support of “the man”—regardless of who “the man” is for you.